Index of Persons

Thomas J. Wehlim did a bizarre thing at Cornerstone Books this Tuesday. After wishing the employees »a very Happy Publishing Day,« the author conducted an impromptu poll, asking the attendants whether they preferred an index of persons in novels or not. »Yes« won out in the poll, and now, Wehlim says he’s going to order index of persons to be inserted in all new American novels. Wehlim evidently thinks the book industry is trying to suppress indexes of persons too much.

The question whether there should be an index of persons in novels is, weirdly enough, one of Wehlim’s obsessions. The author launched into his index rant pretty early in his speech to the publishers employees.

»So then, let me ask you a question,« Wehlim said. »Index of persons — right? In a novel? To guide the reader. Yes or no?«

When he said »Index of persons«, Wehlim was referring to the tradition especially of Russian and French publishers of the 19th century to add a list of characters (with a few words about their profession, social rank and family relations) at the end of the voluminous novels of, for example, Tolstoy or Flaubert. So he’d prefer such indexes in American novels to help the readers to better understand the story line:

»Okay, I really need this information because, you know, we’re publishing novels. We’re publishing very long novels with a lot of characters. And we approximately have about 100.000 readers every year that stop reading a novel because they cannot sort out the characters anymore. So, what is wrong with an index of persons?«

This is the part where Wehlim did the poll. He asked the attendants, who preferred such indexes and got a bunch of cheers. He asked who preferred »no indexes« and then said the guy who cheered for »No« »works for the disordered.« Then he accused the publishers of suppressing indexes intentionally, for the sake of lower printing costs.